EXCLUSIVE: Lake O’ the Pines tragedy spurring change in Austin

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State Representative Jay Dean of Longview is the most recent lawmaker to throw his weight behind house bill 4150, written the wake of a tragedy at Lake O the Pines. 

He signed on as a co-author alongside State Representative Chris Paddie of Marshall.

On an average day, Texans pass under dozens of power lines, trusting that they’re maintained and installed high enough to protect them from harm. 

It’s unfortunate that sometimes that tragedy or good legislation and laws are born out of tragedy, said Rep. Dean. 

He’s referring to the tragedy that unfolded on Lake O the Pines, a year and a half ago.

Three boy scouts from Hallsville, Will Brannon, Heath Faucheux and Thomas Larry were electrocuted when the mast of their catamaran came in contact with a power line sagging over the lake. 

Part of the legacy of the boys is for us to make sure this never happens again, said Michelle Brannon, Will’s mother. 

The Brannons, along with the Faucheux and Larry families have been working closely with lawmakers to protect other families across the state from enduring their same grief.

As parents ourselves, it’s unimaginable that I would have to deal with what these families have had to deal with, said Rep. Paddie.

Both lawmakers say the bill is clearly laid out, requiring utilities to inspect their power lines the right way.

It’s not meant to be an inspection, you know, ‘I rode by a power line going 50 miles an hour in my truck,’ explained Rep. Dean.

Utilities will also have to report those inspection results, as well as, injuries or fatalities caused by their power lines, to the state.

Some of this should have already taken place. Some of it is taking place by some and not others, said Rep. Dean.

Stronger oversight and regulations like these, they believe, make this tragedy preventable. 

We sure want to make sure it doesn’t happen again and you know, people held accountable, said Rep. Dean.

Representative Paddie says he’s encouraged by the support he’s already seen for the bill.

This is not unique to East Texas. This is a tragedy that could happen in any part of the state at any time. Everyone could be affected, and everyone could be further protected by good policy that leads to this not happening in the future, said Rep. Paddie.

Brannon says together, they are determined to make a change.

I’m just one of three large families that have been brought together by tragedy. We will make it safer for our families and everyone else’s families, just to be outside, said Brannon. 

She says all three families are thankful for their lawmakers leading the charge in Austin. 

We won’t be satisfied until we can stand together at the end of this process and have a bill that’s signed by the governor into law, said Rep. Paddie.

The bill is scheduled to go before the House Committee on State Affairs on Monday, April 1, 2019. 

An identical bill was filed by State Senator Bryan Hughes of Mineola

It has been assigned to the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce.

The committee’s vice-chair is State Senator Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, who represents much of East Texas, including Athens, Nacogdoches and Lufkin.

Click here to join the parents’ Facebook group Demand Electric Power Line Safety in Texas.

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